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Shady dealings in Silwan - Petition against Elad control of the "City of David"

Petition: City of David historic site should not be managed by a private organization

Ir Amim NGO and a number of prominent academics and civil servants petitioned the Israeli High Court of Justice (HCJ), asking the court to annul the agreement granting Jewish right-wing group "El-ad" the authority to manage the "City of David", a historic site outside the walls of the old city of Jerusalem.

The petition – filed against the Nature and Parks Authority (NPA), the Ministry of Nature Preservation, the Jerusalem municipality and the El-ad organization – asks the court to file an order nisi to cancel the agreement under which the park is managed by El-ad, and return the park's managerial authority to the NPA or another appropriate public body.

The petitioners claim that the situation in the City of David is unlike any other national park in Israel; no other national park in the country is managed by a private organization, with a clear political orientation and agenda.

According to the petitioners, the Nature and Parks Authority is obliged by Israeli law to manage all recognized national parks. However, the NPA delegated management of the City of David to El-ad without holding a tender, although it lacked proper authorization, and despite the fact this act was in violation of public regulations. Moreover, the NPA operated in violation of its public obligations when it refused to disclose the agreement it signed with El-ad in 2005, which transferred the park's management to the right-wing group.

The petition stresses that the fact that El-ad was given the authority to manage the park allows the group to influence the site's development, to select the type of information passed in the guided tours the park offers, to choose which public events will take place in the park, and to collect money from visitors for admission. The delegation of authority from the NPA to El-ad over this important historic and religious site, has given the group a political advantage, and allowed politicization of the messages circulated in the park. Moreover, it has affected the lives of Palestinian residents of the area.


Whose city is it, anyway?

Few people who visit the City of David are aware that the site is controlled and operated by a private organization, with a clear political orientation and ideological interest.

All over Jerusalem, impressive street advertising signs exhort passersby to come and see “where it all began.”

And indeed thousands of sightseers – Israelis and foreign tourists – are heeding the exhortation to visit the City of David, located in the vicinity of the Holy Basin. Schoolchildren, soldiers, VIPs, servicemen and women, many of them in officially organized groups, are streaming to see the excavations which aim at proving that it was here that the Jewish people first found a foothold. Here King David established his capital. Here Solomon built the Temple. Hence it is our inalienable right to reestablish and reaffirm Jewish control over the city – a city that is, uniquely, sacred to all three of the monotheistic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

If in the past religious fervor motivated warfare, it has now been joined by equally ardent and potentially destructive fanatic nationalism.

Few people who heed the call to visit the City of David are aware that, uniquely in Israel, the site is controlled and operated by a private body, the Elad organization, which has a clear political orientation and ideological interest. In an extraordinary and patently illegal move, the State of Israel has privatized one of the most sensitive sites in the country.

The Nature and Parks Authority, which according to the law officially bears responsibility for managing the country’s parks, has in this case abdicated its responsibility and transferred the management to the Elad organization counter to all rules of proper administration. Adding to the impropriety, the Nature and Parks Authority violated its duty to operate with transparency by refusing to reveal details of the 2005 agreement in which it transferred the management authority to Elad without a legal tender.

FULLY EXPLOITING the authority now invested in it, Elad controls the development of the City of David site, determines the route and contents of the guided tours, manages the Visitors’ Center and has a say in any future development of the site. It also charges entrance fees, as is customary in the country’s national parks.

Any sophisticated participant in the guided tours can hardly fail to note the degree of indoctrination that characterizes their contents.

Elad is undoubtedly a major player in the current trend of “Judaizing” east Jerusalem. As part of this process, the Palestinians’ “narrative” is being patently ignored and undermined and their civil rights are infringed.

Most recently yet another act by an official entity threatens the delicate fabric of coexistence in east Jerusalem. Mayor Nir Barkat has announced plans to establish an imposing archeological park near the same area of Silwan. The plans call for the demolition of 22 houses in the area, which the city claims were built without the necessary permits. (Ironically, the illegally constructed multi-story Beit Yonatan which towers above the overcrowded hovels of the village has not yet been evacuated and sealed, in defiance of a court order.) Few people are aware that the residents of Silwan, at their own expense, sought professional experts to draw up a plan which would enable them to engage in the kind of urban renewal that has taken place in other hitherto neglected areas of the city. Implementation of the plan would have enabled them to obtain building licenses and to develop the infrastructure essential to decent living conditions, including viable roads, water supply and sewage. The Jerusalem municipal authorities arbitrarily rejected the plan without even bringing it before the relevant planning forums.

There is surely a limit to the extent to which any underprivileged, persecuted and humiliated population can bear the tyranny of overlords. Would that the mayor of Jerusalem and likeminded chauvinists could appreciate how much a policy of “live and let live,” a recognition of the needs and human rights of all sectors of the public, Jews and non-Jews alike, respect for the beliefs and customs of the “other,” respect for the places holy to different religions, might transform Jerusalem into that which its name signifies – Ir Shalem, the City of Peace.
The writer, an Israel Prize laureate, is part of a group of academics and civil servants who petitioned the High Court of Justice to annul the agreement between Elad and the Nature and Parks Authority.

Ir Amim demands El-ad leave Silwan

Organization manages City of David national park.

The nonprofit organization Ir Amim and several intellectuals and activists petitioned the High Court of Justice on Sunday, demanding that the National Parks Authority annul an allegedly secret agreement allowing right-wing Jerusalem settlement movement El-ad to manage the City of David national park in the capital’s Silwan neighborhood.

According to the petition, filed by attorneys Michael Sfard and Neta Patrick, “there is no other example of a national park being run by a private nonprofit organization with a clear political orientation.

Thus, we will argue that no other instance of managing a national park in Israel raises a heavy suspicion of conflict of interests as does the management of the site which is the subject of this petition.”

The secret agreement between the National Parks Authority and El-ad was allegedly signed on March 7, 2005, after the government had agreed to annul earlier agreements granting the settlement organization authority over the archaeological sites in the park and the right to manage the entire area.

The petitioners charged that the National Parks Authority had repeatedly refused their requests to see a copy of the agreement.

To the best of their knowledge, wrote the petitioners, the agreement grants El-ad “the right to manage the site, to sell entrance tickets, to operate the visitors’ center, to prepare the information about the site with overall responsibility for the contents of the material, for training the guides, for managing the library and preparing the educational material, and for drafting the official guide program for visitors to the site.”

The petitioners charged that these rights gave El-ad power, among other things, to shape the opinions of Israeli schoolchildren and soldiers who were routinely brought to the site for educational tours.

This, the petitioners added, was coming from an organization whose primary purpose was to “Judaize” Silwan by actively involving itself in the “repatriation” of houses that may have belonged to Jews in the past and by purchasing homes belonging to local Arabs.

“The delegation of authority from the NPA to El-ad over this important historic and religious site has given the group a political advantage and allowed the politicization of the messages circulated in the park,” Ir Amim wrote in a press communiqué announcing the petition.

“Moreover, it has affected the lives of Palestinian residents of the area,” it added.

“We believe that the issue of making the story of east Jerusalem the story of the Jewish nation, and only the Jewish nation, will be shown in the material El-ad will present to visitors,” said Patrick.

Patrick added that if the state thought it best to privatize the City of David park, it was obliged to have acted according to the law.

“This includes holding a tender and having competition with other organizations,” she said. “Also, in this case, the private organization that was chosen is a very problematic one.”